Back to the drawing board? How you can help ensure the government learns from serious criticism of the Investigatory Powers Bill

Illustration of architect standing by drawing board. Source unknown - From an 1893 technical journal, now in the public domain

Last week, the government suffered a setback in their plans to introduce  extensive new surveillance and hacking powers through the Investigatory Powers Bill.

Two of the three three committees set up to scrutinise the bill, the Intelligence and Security Committee and the Joint Committee, published reports calling on the government to make significant changes before the law is passed. These reports followed in the wake of the serious criticism of the bill by the Science and Technology Committee, whose chair called on the “urgently review the legislation“.

The core team at Open Rights Group have produced a good analysis of the Joint Committee recommendations, including justifying bulk surveillance powers, clarifying internet connection records, safeguarding encryption and removing Bulk Data Sets from the bill.

What happens next?

In line with other civil society organisations, the Open Rights Group believes the Home Office needs to address the recommendations of all three reports and undertake a major re-write of the Bill before it is laid before Parliament.

Currently, the government remains committed to passing the legislation before the end of 2016 but, given the extent of the criticism the bill has received, there is a very real possibility this date could slip.

What can you do to help?

You can help keep up the pressure on the government by contacting your local MP. Let them know you are concerned about the Investigatory Powers Bill and the issues raised by all three committees.

You don’t have to write a big long email or letter. Simply let your MP know that the government needs to learn the lessons from all three committee reports and re-write the bill. If possible, try to include links to where your MP can find more information. The Open Rights Group website is a great place to start.

You can quickly and easily email your MP using the free writetothem.com service.

It’s really important that each and everyone of us speaks out. The more emails and letters MPs receive about the Investigatory Powers Bill, the more seriously they will take it.

Please do let us know how you get on with contacting your MP. You can do so by commenting below this post, sending us a message on Twitter @OpenRightsBrum or telling us at one of our regular meetups.

 

 

Has the science and technology committee struck a blow against the Investigatory Powers Bill?

Screenshot of House of Commons science and technology committee report on the Investigatory Powers Bill

Earlier this week, the House of Commons science and technology committee published a highly critical report on the bill, with its chair, Nicola Blackwood MP commenting:

The current lack of clarity within the draft Investigatory Powers Bill is causing concern amongst businesses. There are widespread doubts over the definition, not to mention the definability, of a number of the terms used in the draft Bill. The Government must urgently review the legislation so that the obligations on the industry are clear and proportionate.

In particular, the report highlights the following problems:

  • The feasibility of collecting and storing Internet Connection Records ICRs – including the very real problem of keeping these highly personal records from (non state-sanctioned) hackers.
  • Anxiety amongst communication  providers over the ability to use effective encryption, which Blackwood recognises is “important in providing the secure services on the internet we all rely on“. The committee particularly wants the government to provide greater clarity over the status of end-to-end encrypted communications, where decryption might not be possible by a communications provider that had not added the original encryption.
  • Concerns amongst certain communications over ‘equipment interference’. For some providers, such as Mozilla (the makers of Firefox), this concern appears to stem from a genuine concern for its users’ privacy and the integrity of the internet. For other providers, the concern is more about how a perception of hacking could hurt their competitiveness in a global market for services.
  • Uncertainty over costs. Coverage of the committee’s report has downplayed the risk associated with spiralling implementation costs, both for government and businesses. At last cost, the Home Secretary has put the cost of implementing the new ICR system at £247 million but the report notes that costs are likely to change (i.e. rise), given the uncertainty and rapid pace of technological change.

It’s worth noting that the committee’s remit was purely to look at the technical feasibility of the government’s proposals and how these might affect communications businesses, not whether the communications monitoring provisions or whether they are proportionate to the threats they are intended to deal with. These issues are expected to be addressed by the joint committe Joint Committee established to scrutinise the draft Bill as a whole.

I believe the criticisms levelled at the bill in this report are significant for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, by focusing solely on the technical feasibility of implementing the bill, it manages to side-step the highly polarised debate between privacy and security advocates. This report says, irrespective of your views on the merits of expanded monitoring of communications, you should be concerned as a citizen and taxpayer about the feasibility of implementing the government’s plans at anything approaching a sensible level of expenditure.

Secondly, by holding up the prospect that the Investigatory Powers Bill will do real harm to the growing UK tech sector, the report will hopefully encourage the government to modify its approach, if only to protect its supposed reputation for business confidence.

Both these signals – questions over the feasability of implementation and the likely damage to the UK’s growing tech sector – will not  in itself be enough to stop the Investigatory Powers Bill becoming law, but it’s a start.

The Joint Committee is due to deliver its full report on the Investigatory Powers Bill no later than 17 February. It will be interesting to see whether this committee takes a similarly critical stance on the merits of expanded monitoring provisions and the limited amount of time the committee was given to scrutinise the bill.

Cost of Investigatory Powers Bill could undermine UK Tech sector – full details of science and technology committee report

Science and Technology Committee of Parliament slams Snoopers’ Charter – Open Rights Group’s reaction to the committee’s report

This post was originally published on the personal blog of Open Rights Group Birmingham organiser, Francis Clarke. You can follow Francis on Twitter @francisclarke.

Join us on 17 February to learn how to protect your online privacy and security

Please join us at Birmingham Open Media on 17 February for a special workshop focused on helping you reclaim your online privacy and security.

At the session you’ll find out more about how companies and governments are tracking you online and why this is bad news for your human rights and puts you at greater risk of being a victime of online crime. More importantly, we’ll show you some simple, practical steps you can take to boost your online privacy and security without having to totally change the way you use the internet.

At the session you’ll also have the chance to find out the latest news about the government’s plans to greatly expand surveillance and hacking through the Investigatory Powers Bill (AKA the Snoopers’ Charter) and what you can do to stop it becoming law.

Don’t forget your laptop, tablet or smartphone

We want the workshop to be as practical as possible so please bring along your laptop, tablet and/or smartphone so that we can show you some great apps, browser extensions and other tips.

Sign up via our Meetup page

ORG Birmingham privacy and security meetup

As usual, you can find out more and RSVP for our events via our Meetup page

ORG Birmingham Meetup

Birmingham Open Media

A big thank you goes out to our hosts Birmingham Open Media (BOM), who have supported Open Rights Group Birmingham from day one. If you’re not familiar with the work they do, you can visit BOM Tuesdays to Saturdays between 10.30am and 5pm.

Keep in touch

You can keep in touch with all the latest developments by following us on Twitter @OpenRightsBrum.

See you on the 17th!

Francis

Open Rights Group Birmingham